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Venezuela's Cancer-Stricken Chavez To Seek 4th Term


In Venezuela, the populist President Hugo Chavez says he'll register on Monday as a candidate for October's presidential election. It will be his forth campaign, going back to the late 1990s. But Chavez is badly hobbled. Cancer has invaded his body. And Venezuelans are wondering if he'll even make it to the October election. NPR's Juan Forero is in Caracas.

And Juan, I understand this is important weekend on the Venezuelan election calendar. Explain to us what's happening.

JUAN FORERO, BYLINE: Well, it sounds bureaucratic and academic. The two candidates are simply registering ahead of the October 7 election, but everyone will be watching, and that's because the challenger, whose name is Henrique Capriles, is this 39-year-old upstart whose youth and energy are contrasting so sharply with Chavez.

And before signing his name, Capriles is planning on a march that'll go several miles through the capital with all of his followers in tow. Chavez, meanwhile, can barely walk, so Venezuelans are tuning in to see just how each candidate comes across.

GREENE: Yeah. Chavez, as I understand it, has had cancer for a year, at least. I mean, do we know anything about his health at this point?

FORERO: Well, he's generated intense speculation because his health is really a state secret here. He's had three operations, we do know that, to remove a tumor from his pelvic region, and he's had multiple chemotherapy and radiation therapy sessions. And he spent much of the year in Cuba, where there aren't many nosy reporters.

But there are signs that things are going badly. Chavez was once on the air for hours at a time; now he's rarely on TV. When he's been on, he walks very gingerly. Here guessing what's happening to him is much like what it was like in the old Soviet Union, when an aging leader disappeared. No one knew and the state rarely said a thing.

GREENE: Yeah. I remember hearing about those long speeches that Chavez would give. I mean, he seemed to have endless energy. Why all the secrecy right now surrounding his health?

FORERO: The opposition says Chavez needs to do his best to make the public believe he's fine, that he can run and that he can win and that he can rule for years on end. That's what he's promised. I spoke with two of his closest aides this week, and while they didn't say he was well, they said he was looking good, fighting the illness, still working, still ruling, still governing.

They assured that he'd be the candidate on October 7 and that he was the only candidate for the country's Socialist Party.

GREENE: So, Juan, if Chavez is overcome by illness and isn't able to run in October, what happens?

FORERO: I think that's a distinct possibility. Here's a man who had a recurrence in February when doctors said the tumor was still there and he's gone on air twice on national television and pleaded with God to save his life. If he doesn't make it, the Socialist Party can chose another candidate, but it'll be chaotic. Chavez holds every lever of power here. He controls all the institutions. He doesn't delegate, and there's no one remotely as powerful as he is in the government.

GREENE: Juan, I mean the United States, not the best relationship with Venezuela. I mean, this must be an election that Americans as well as many others in the world are watching pretty closely.

FORERO: Most definitely. Venezuela is one of the biggest oil producers. It's a vital supplier to the United States and to other countries, and Chavez is also a figure who's well known. He's built a reputation as a leftist leader who opposes the United States and American imperialism, as he puts it, and that's won him followers.

But he's also allied himself with some of the world's most tyrannical governments. There's Syria, Iran, Cuba, and Gaddafi in Libya before he died in the Arab Spring. So Chavez is a colorful personality who's been on the scene a long, long time.

GREENE: That's NPR's Juan Forero in Caracas updating us on the health of President Hugo Chavez as he seeks reelection this year. Juan, thanks so much.

FORERO: Thank you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Juan Forero

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